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Flower power; A genetic pool in the permafrost.

COLUMN: In our opinion

Life has astonishing ways of lasting.

The latest example: In Russia, a plant has been coaxed into growth from immature fruits buried for 30,000 years in northeastern Siberia.

It's the oldest instance yet of preserved tissue yielding a living thing. And the plant, Silene stenophylla, closely resembles its modern-day version, which still dots with delicate white flowers the same frozen region.

Previously, other researchers germinated a 2,000-year-old palm date seed from Israel. A 1,300-year-old lotus seed from northern China has also been made to germinate, among other instances of laboratory revivals.

But 30,000 years is an incredibly long time for a life-cycle step to be put on hold. The wait to regenerate began inside an Ice Age animal burrow in permafrost, and might have gone on indefinitely. Russian scientists dug up the fossilized burrow from its deep cold storage, and in this case teased life out of the immature fruit tissue rather than the seeds.

In a nutrient-rich culture, a seedling sprung and was transplanted into soil. The plant grew and flowered, and when fertilized it fruited and produced viable seeds.

This species, scientists point out, already had proved itself a survivor of harsh conditions. That to some degree explains the hardiness of its immature fruit over 30,000 years. Beyond that, biologists over and over find that life loves itself and can be surprisingly tenacious, adaptive and patient.

This study, reported earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could have possible practical value in medicine, agriculture and other fields. It also pricks up the ears of imaginative people everywhere. For instance, tissue from life forms long extinct, such as the woolly mammoth, could possibly be fished out of the permafrost and - who knows? Insert your Hollywood script here.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 28, 2012
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